Foodies and domestic cooks alike are experiencing the painful price increases across supermarket aisles. Costs are so high that saving money on everyday household items, like bread and meat, has become an imperative part of the grocery shopping experience.
Food Prices Soar in 2011
The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a Consumer Price Index Summary (CPI) annually, which identifies the average change of the price for goods and services purchased by households in the U.S.
According to the most recent CPI report, overall food prices in 2011 experienced a 4.7 percent rise over the previous year. Further, food at home saw a significant 6 percent increase in 2011 compared to 2010.
This surge in expenses at the checkout counter is not expected to calm anytime soon, as all grocery categories from fruits and vegetables to dairy and meat climbed across the year.
- Fruits and vegetable prices increased by 2.3 percent in 2011
- The cost of dairy and related products faced rapid growth with a rise of 8.1 percent in 2011
Long-term food cost change over the course of a decade, from 2001-2011, demonstrates just how much pricing has risen:
- 1 lb. of ground beef in 2011 was at $3.19 compared to $2.03 in 2001 (up 56 percent)
- A loaf of bread in 2001 was an average of $0.92 and is up 42 percent in 2011
- In 2011, 1 gal. of milk was at $3.55, a 24.7 percent change over $2.03 in 2001
Consumers may be so accustomed to skyrocketing food costs that the damage done to monthly grocery budgets goes unnoticed. However, when conducting food cost comparison, shoppers get a practical sense of where funds are funneled through.
How to Avoid High Food Cost
There are many ways to side-step rising food costs that are not only effortless to try, but also feasible to maintain as a long-standing household practice.
1. Try Your Luck with Generic
Depending on the item, generic or store brands may be comparable to pricey, brand name products.
For example, my neighborhood chain supermarket sold Nutri-Grain cereal bars for a jaw-dropping $4.19 per 8-count box. I found a similar version from Trader Joe’s, a market that primarily stocks its own generic brand. The generic alternative called, “This Strawberry Walks into a Bar…” looks and tastes exactly like the brand variety, but comes at just $1.99 per 8-count box.
2. Freeze Food with a Short Shelf-Life
Most shoppers know that purchasing meat in bulk or on sale and then freezing it for later use is an effective way to save money. However, this practical method of food preservation can be extended to other grocery items like produce and even bread.
Bulk warehouse stores sell bread loaves in multi-packs. Instead of allowing an entire loaf to waste on the counter, throw extras into the freezer and defrost slices in a toaster when ready to eat. Bread tastes just as fresh and less money is sent to the trash.
Similarly, foods like bell peppers and tomatoes can be stored in the freezer for extended periods of time (I’ve experienced upwards of two months) to be used in delicious recipes down the line. Freezing berries when they are in season and on sale provides great smoothies at a value.
3. Buy Local Whenever Possible
Mounting fuel prices are sending transportation rates on food soaring — unfortunately, consumers are often left to absorb the cost. A fun way to avoid being left with extra cost is to shop locally.
Visit the city farmer’s market to stave-off branding and fuel costs from big supermarkets and save huge percentages on organic produce. Herbs like cilantro, mint and parsley were marked up to $2.50 each at the major grocers in my city. When strolling through the Sunday farmer’s market, however, I found prices ranging from $0.75-$1 per bundle of herbs.
I recommend taking a trip to farmer’s markets closer to the end of the day, as many vendors are willing to negotiate prices in order to avoid re-hauling the inventory. I was able to purchase a bundle each of fresh cilantro and parsley, originally priced at $0.75 each for only $1 total.
4. Be Selective with “Superfood”
Good health should, of course, be integrated into a day-to-day diet. However, food items regarded as “superfoods,” which promise superior health benefits are, at times, just a trendy (and costly) indulgence.
The latest craze hitting store shelves are acai berries, which boast high antioxidant levels. A 16 oz. bottle of 100% acai juice runs anywhere from $15-$25 and often these products are so overly processed by the time they arrive to the U.S., their ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) values drop significantly.
Instead, opt for other anti-oxidant rich items like blueberries, cranberries and even black beans. These savvy superfoods demand just a few dollars ($5-10) from shopper’s pockets and provide a comparable health boost at half the cost.